So, for the past two weeks we have been talking about what to do with waste to avoid trashing it – you can reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, and mulch. But, eventually, some things are just plain trash.
To help kids get engaged in the need to avoid trash, it's important to talk about where trash ends up… everything you put in a garbage bin eventually gets picked up by a garbage truck and from there taken to a landfill. Landfills are big places – and big is a hard idea for kids to imagine.
… so instead of starting with a landfill, start with the waste generated in your classroom in only one day.
Give each student a plastic bag and tie one end of it to their belt loops (have some lengths of string available in case they don’t have loops). For an entire day, have them throw everything they would normally put in the trash, recycling, or compost bin into the plastic bag. Do throw away smelly items and have students draw a picture of those items and keep the pictures in the plastic bag (e.g., a picture of an apple instead of carrying around the apple core).
At the end of the day, have each student dump the items out on a surface in the classroom. Have each student tally, list or draw the waste they generated. In addition to counting items, you could weigh, graph, or measure your waste in other ways. Once finished, pile all the waste from the entire class together and hold a class meeting. What will happen to these things when we really throw them away? Do students think they have generated a lot of waste or very little? Is there any way to make less waste tomorrow?
By now, students may already know about compost and recycling… finish the activity by asking – what happens to the things that can neither be recycled nor composted?
Use an image like the one below from Managua, Nicaragua to explain where trash ends up (click it for a higher resolution image).
The combination of collecting their own trash and this image should help students better understand trash and landfills. Check back in the next few days for more activities designed to do just that.